(Buea-Cameroon) Over the years, I have heard and read about election malpractices, but on February 9, during the twin elections in Cameroon, I watched helplessly in Muea, Buea, as single votes, in some cases, two, three, and four, were inflated by officials, in exchange for banknotes from a party official.
That a woman was justifying and begging youths to take bribe, “because they cannot change the status-quo”, beats my imagination. That young people, the prime victims of the on-going war in Anglophone Cameroon, were the ones paid to inflate votes, stuff ballot boxes, to give the impression that hundreds voted in their polling stations, whereas only single votes, and in some cases, four or five votes were cast, still beats my imagination.
That an aged woman, caught voting from one polling station to another, in one polling centre, surrendered her crime on the devil’s head, saying it was the devil’s work, is worrying. That a woman claiming to be from Muea, one of the hardest-hit communities in Buea was the one trying to convince young people to stuff ballot boxes to inflate figures in a polling centre where not up to five locals came out to vote is sad. That the eldest man amongst the officials was the first to sell votes, inflate figures and dash into the quarters, is sickening.
We arrived Muea that morning at about 7:00am. ELECAM, alongside administrative and CPDM representatives, escorted by the military later arrived at 11:00am. Earlier, they had backtracked on their promise to transport everyone, so the opposition agents had to take the risk to travel unguarded, unlike others who came in the company of armed guards four hours later. Shortly after setting up the polling stations in the Muea polling centre, the fraud began. About 30 minutes, when no single voter from Muea had stepped out to vote, we discovered that one of the polling stations, GBPS Lower Muea D, which unlike others, was set up inside a classroom, was already stuffed with ballot papers. The representatives of the administration, ELECAM, and CPDM, who manned the station, rather became furious when their act was caught. They challenged everyone, threatened and stood firm that no one will interfere.
The ELECAM official said as the Chairman of the polling station, he was not bothered about anything, because to him, the votes were genuine even as no one had come in to vote. It was shocking. He said he was answerable only to his ELECAM boss, who doesn’t have a problem with how he was doing his job.
Following that incident, it was again discovered that a representative of the CPDM, in one of the polling stations, was moving around voting from one polling station to another. When she was caught, she blamed it on “the devil’s work”. Her accomplice, another woman, came to her rescue, saying that there was nothing to be done about it, and as such, the agents of the SDF should just cast additional votes for the SDF too, to balance the irregularity. I knew their plan was to inflate figures as no one was coming out to vote. Even those whose homes were beside the polling centre, remained indoors, as if there was a plague outside.
Later that afternoon, some police officers, mostly accompanied by students from the Police Training Centre in Mutengene came in to vote. When they approached a stationed where I was stationed, I told them that the special polling station reserved for them was somewhere in the Court of Appeal, and not in Muea.
Faced with the resistance, they left, but returned about 30 minutes later, and went to a different polling station where the agents there allowed them to vote. I overheard one of them saying that he did not even carry an ID card. When the first group voted, another later arrived and voted too. How people resident in other towns and regions had to participate in local elections in a different town, is a topic for another day.
Another phase of the rigging started in the evening. At sunset, polling stations with not up to four votes ended up registering huge figures. We saw figures like SDF 3, CPDM 33 in stations where no one came to vote. We saw a number of stations registering over 80votes for the ruling party in stations where no one came to vote. Some refused to make their figures public, because they had been inflated to worrying figures. The truth is that apart from the agents, most of who did not even have voters cards, not up to five locals came out to vote in all polling stations in and around Muea.
The boycott was total there.
In exchange for pumped up figures, officials were paid by agents of the ruling party, (names withheld). The amounts ranged from FCFA 25,000 to FCFA 50,000, depending on how the persons concerned bargained.
Others mostly of the opposition, turned down the bribes, worth hundreds of thousands, and each time, those bribing will propose bigger sums, to entice them. One agent of the opposition caved in, took the bribe, and escaped before his colleagues discovered.
When some of us questioned those who received the bribes and wrote fake figures in the reports, most of them remained mute. Others said they were not the ones to change Cameroon.
Honestly, with what I saw, I don’t blame any person, who seeing or having experienced such shameful deeds, will choose an alternative way, other than elections, to drive home their point, or make themselves heard.
I felt so bad that some people were taking advantage of the sad situation, to unduly benefit from our people’s misery, as they die in their numbers. No doubt the so-called elected officials do not care about the suffering masses, because they owe their allegiance to those who handpicked them to lord over the masses they claim to represent.
But I was inspired there too. I saw a young man, A. Blaise, who openly said “I am ashamed that I came out today. Honestly, I came because I need the money. But the money I will leave with, is the amount I will be duly paid, not bribe money. Shame Madam, that at your age, you are the one encouraging this. Don’t you see people dying? In this station, the one vote you see here will remain the one genuine vote.” He told the woman who coordinated the rigging clique. As he promised, no fraud happened under his watch. I will forever respect him for that, others sold for chicken feed, but no amount could make him betray his conscience. Note: The fraud recounted here is limited to what happened in Muea, Buea, Southwest Region of Cameroon. Other polling centres in Buea, and across the country have different stories to tell, some similar, others worst.